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Folic Acid and Decreased Autism Risk: Taking Folic Acid May be a No-Brainer

a blog by Serena H. Chen, M.D., IRMS Reproductive Medicine at Saint Barnabas, March 21, 2013

Can you lower your child’s risk for a birth defect just by taking your vitamins? A provocative new study was recently published in the February 13, 2013 issue of JAMA – The Journal of the American Medical Association - demonstrating a dramatic 40% lower risk of autism in children born to women who took Folic acid supplementation from 4 weeks prior to conception through pregnancy. Folic acid, or Folate is a type of B vitamin. The study was done in Norway and looked at over 85,000 children born in 2002 through 2008 and followed through March 31, 2012. At the end of the study children ranged in ages from 3 to 10 years old, average 6.4 years. About 270 of these children had a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Only 0.1% of the children whose mothers took Folic acid were affected while 0.21% of children who were not exposed to Folic acid during pregnancy had a diagnosis of ASD. While this study does not establish a causal relationship between Folic acid use during conception and pregnancy and autism, this new data, and the fact that Folic acid supplementation is known to lower the risk for neural tube defects (a potentially serious, sometimes fatal birth defect) makes taking your vitamins much more compelling.

The data on the protective effect of Folate against neural tube defects is so strong that the FDA, and the Norwegian and other governments, recommend that all women trying to conceive and pregnant take at least 100% of the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for Folic acid in a supplement each day. This is 400 micrograms or 0.4 milligrams a day. Some women should take much more. If you have a history of a child/pregnancy or anyone in your family with a neural tube defect, or if you are obese (BMI of 35.0 or more), the recommendation is may be increased significantly to up to 10 times the usual amount. You should discuss this with your doctor prior to taking higher doses of Folic acid.

Folic acid or Folate is included in most over the counter multivitamins at 100% of the RDA and in all prenatal vitamins in the United States. It can also be taken separately, and is available as an inexpensive, non-prescription supplement in the vitamin aisle at any pharmacy. Many pregnant women have trouble tolerating prenatal vitamins due to nausea or constipation. These effects are not due to the Folic acid and may be due to the high levels of iron in these vitamins. If you are not taking your prenatal vitamins because of side effects, talk with your doctor about switching to a different prenatal vitamin or taking Folic acid and iron separately. Folic acid is usually very well tolerated and separate iron formulations may have much less in the way of side effects.

Bottom line – if you are thinking about conceiving or you are pregnant now – take your vitamins! Take your Folate or Folic acid!


Comments (2)

During having endometriose can I take folic acid to become a mommy or not. Never been preganant.

Hi Megan, Folic Acid is a natural supplement and folate is often found in the foods we consume. Folate or Folic Acid is definitely recommended for women with endometriosis. If you are looking to consult a fertility doctor who specializes in endometriosis, please give us a call at 1-855-955-BABY (2229). Best of luck, Kim

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